Rating: T


Nieve was a button collector.[1] She poured her pouch of brightly colored buttons in many different shapes and sizes into the hammock her skirts had created as she sat cross-legged, examining her cherished curiosities in the moonlight.

"Button, button, who's got the button. There are never enough blue buttons to be had," she mused, righting the buttons that were overturned, so she could see their happy faces better.[2] "They're always being used on Mam's things," she remarked, as she pushed a wayward blonde curl out of her face.[3] She hoped very much that Auntie Mirana had not noticed the motion, for she might take it into her head to tie back her hair the way her Mam was wont to do, and one was not supposed to argue with the Queen.

"If you asked your Faither for blue buttons, I wager he would procure you more than you would know what to do with, my dear," the Queen said, floating to the balcony's balustrade and resting her hands lightly on its white gleaming surface.

"I know just what I would do with them," Nieve replied wistfully. She would sort them—by Disposition.

Nieve chewed her bottom lip, gazing longingly for a moment at the Queen's skirts that nearly brushed her own black patent shoes. They were so white that it made her want to reach out and touch them, although her dessert of squimberry tarts had left her hands stained and unsuitable for touching. Should she give in to the temptation and leave prints on those white skirts, the Queen would not frown at her, but Mam and Faither certainly would when they came to get her in a couple of days. After they finished going to Bedfordshire, as Thackery had observed upon her arrival, carpetbag in hand.[4] An observation that had caused Auntie Mirana to usher her much too quickly from the kitchen. No one said anything really interesting in her presence: it was a conspiracy amongst grownups. Faither had experience leading conspiratorial resistance movements, after all.

"Ah," the Queen said, tilting her crowned head upwards. "Have you observed the stars this evening?"

"No." Nieve looked away from her buttons to glance up. "What are they telling tonight?" she asked, not recognizing their twinkling, animated movements, despite her Faither's many lessons in the stories of the stars.

The Queen turned to smile down at her. "The tale dearest of them all."

"Would I like it?" It would have to be a Very Good Story to give up counting and sorting her buttons.

"I think so, my dear." The Queen extended her hand. "Come, take my hand."

Nieve opened her pouch and worked with nimble, preternaturally quick fingers to scoop all of the buttons safely back inside. Finishing her task, she stood and grasped her Auntie's outstretched hand with her own slightly sticky one.

"What is it about?" she asked, gazing up.

"Well, it all begins with moonlight and stars on a clear night like much this. It is a tale of a Hatter Below and an Alice Above, my dear. The tale of how it came to be May in Underland forever. It is a tale of how you came to Be."

[1] Nieve is an Anglicization of the name 'Niamh' (Irish pronunciation: [ˈniːəv], with two syllables), which means 'bright'. According to the Fenian Cycle—a body of Irish mythological prose that is set in both Ireland and Scotland and which has more links with Gaelic-speaking Scotland than the other Irish mythological cycles—Niamh of the Golden Hair is the daughter of Manannán mac Lir. Manannán is a sea deity, who also appears in Scottish legend. He is also associated with the cauldron of regeneration and came from the Otherworld, where old age and death were unknown. It is not explicitly said, but it is believed that Niamh is also the daughter of Manannán's wife, the beautiful goddess, Fand, the "Fairy Queen". Niamh crosses the seas on a magical horse.

[2] "Button, Button" is a parlor game of unknown origin that predates 1900. In the game, the children all stand or sit in a circle with their hands out, palms together. One child takes a button and goes around the circle, putting their hands over everybody else's hands one by one. They drop the button in one child's hand, but continue to put their hands in the others' so that no one knows where the button is except for the giver and receiver. The children then chant, "Button, button, who's got the button?" and each child is given a chance to guess who has the button. Once the child with the button is finally guessed, that child is the one to distribute the button and start a new round.

[3] mam – mother (Sc)

[4] I am for Bedfordshire – Victorian English slang meaning 'going to bed' and a euphemism for sex.